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All of this came to an end when, in 1871, Rome became the capital of the unified Kingdom of Italy. The new nation was to be modern, democratic & secular. The clean-but-classical design of the The Altare della Patria or "wedding cake" monument in Rome shows their desired look.
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The new Italian government soon handed control of the Colosseum over to archaeologists, who set about removing the religious icons & clearing it of its greenery (this photo 1890). The Colosseum's days as a wild & overgrown place came to a close.
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Botanist & Countess Elisabetta Fiorini Mazzanti mourned the loss of the Colosseum’s flora: "Nature liked to dress poetically the venerable walls by mitigating their sternness with the graceful ornament of plants and flowers… now archaeological cupidity has destroyed everything"
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Despite these early losses, the Colosseum is still a haven for plants. A study between 1990-2000 found 243 distinct species still growing there, although this number is scarcely half what Deakin observed in the C19th.
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Plants growing in the Colosseum include very rare species like Asphodelus Fistulosus (L) & Sedum Dasyphyllum (R), which are sheltered by the arena, a sanctuary from the urban environment outside. But whether these came here on the pelts of lions, we may never know for sure.
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This is another example of a ruin being used to construct & reinforce an identity. Certain parts of the ruin, the ancient stones & arches, are deemed "proper". Other parts, like the plantlife & the later historical stages of the ruin, are deemed "improper", & are removed.
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As a researcher I'm divided. The ruin must be preserved, but on an emotional level I still feel this loss. Can we undertake valuable conservation work & also keep the romance of old ruins, their use as inspiration for artists & the stories hidden in the layers of their history?
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If you want to read more on the subject of the Colosseum's lost history & plantlife, you might start with this further reading: Christopher Woodward, In Ruins: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/In_Ruins.html?id=mZd-jFjTu1UC Richard Deakin, Flora of the Colosseum: https://archive.org/details/floracolosseumr00deakgoog
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Thanks for listening! As a bonus, here’s a picture someone took of a rebellious caper plant still growing on the Colosseum wall, in defiance of security…
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If you enjoyed this & you're interested in learning more about some of my research, I've collected some bits & pieces in this thread-of-threads. Happy reading!
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Paul Cooper
@PaulMMCooper
· Oct 5, 2017
A thread-of-threads on my research into ruins: ancient, modern & imaginary.
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